February 27, 2015 - 8:30am
Pentatonix taking Cosmo stage
By Jason Bracelin
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Call it the “Glee”-ification of the music business.
The swift rise of vocal quintet
Pentatonix, who perform a cappella versions of pop hits of the present
and past, seems at least partially rooted in the success of the TV show
famous for its choral renditions of countless songs that the masses
know by heart.
But, like any good cover
of a well-known tune, Pentatonix takes this conceit and makes it their
In doing so, they’ve
achieved a steadily growing success, selling nearly 2 million copies
of their four EPs and three studio albums and quickly going from selling
out clubs to large music halls.
What does Pentatonix’s
rising profile tell us about the current state of the music industry?
Let us count a few of the
Reality TV talent shows aren’t
done creating stars just yet.
After goosing the fortunes
of future stars such as Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and Chris Daughtry
early in its run, “American Idol” has lately churned out
a slew of “winners” as forgettable as a whiskey-abetted
one-night stand with a hirsute Barry Manilow devotee.
As for “The Voice,”
well, it’s had all the impact on the record industry as a fart
in a wind storm — to be fair to farts, most of them last longer
than any name recognition for the contestants who appear on the show.
It’s tempting, then,
to suggest that the power of reality TV talent competitions to launch
successful careers in the music business is a thing of the past, like
dinosaurs, the pet rock and people who listen to Bo Bice on purpose.
But then there’s Pentatonix.
The quintet appeared on season
three of an a cappella group competition show “The Sing-Off,”
eventually winning the thing, capping their victory with a rousing version
of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”
Their win earned them $200,000
and a record deal, setting the stage for a future as big as their voices.
But first, they’d have
to fall off said stage — or be pushed, rather.
It’s possible to succeed
outside the traditional bounds of the music business.
After their run on “The
Sing-Off,” Pentatonix parted ways with their record label, who
dropped them and the proverbial ball in one regrettable move.
Ultimately, this ended up
being the best bad news this bunch could have ever gotten.
Without major label backing,
Pentatonix turned to alternate means of getting their music to the public,
namely via YouTube, where they launched their own channel to amazing
Pentatonix is fast approaching
800 million views of their various videos online and have more than
7 million subscribers to their channel, which ranks among the top 50
of all channels of any kind.
In building their fan base
in this fashion, the group was able to do things their way free from
any record company telling them what they can or can’t do while
simultaneously taking a huge cut of any profits — though they
did sign with indie label Madison Gate Records to serve as a distributor
of their music.
During this time, they also
became an increasingly successful touring act.
Eventually, Pentatonix would
ink a deal with major label RCA Records, but as a priority signing with
terms that were most assuredly more beneficial to them than when they
were an unproven act.
By doing things outside the
traditional music industry, then, Pentatonix was able to benefit when
they chose to return.
The ubiquity of Auto-Tune
has heightened the love of the pure human voice.
Auto-Tune, the music recording
software that makes singers sound like robots gargling microchips, has
become as commonplace in contemporary pop music as Chris Brown probation
violations and references to Nicki Minaj’s backside as opposed
to, you know, her actual songs.
any flaws in one’s vocal delivery, synthesizing perfection, manufacturing
Thanks to Auto-Tune, the
rutting of a tone deaf wildebeest or even Selena Gomez’s milquetoast
mewling could be miraculously turned in a catchy melodic hook.
But it also has a homogenizing
effect, stripping away the idiosyncrasies inherent in a singer’s
voice and populating mainstream radio with the musical equivalent of
an army of Stepford Wives.
The ubiquity of Auto-Tune,
however, could be as catalyzing a heightened appreciation of something
increasingly rare on the airwaves: the unprocessed human voice.
Humans, remember them?
They’re very different
from pop stars, those Photoshopped gods and goddesses of product placement
who neither write their songs, nor, as it turns out, truly sing them.
More than anything else,
this is what Pentatonix has to offer, an alternative to all the prefab
pop that they, in turn, transform from synthetic to organic, no computers
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